James Merritt was a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and was among the five liberal former SBC presidents who approached the microphone in 2023 to make a motion to create the Cooperation Committee which is the latest liberal task force in the SBC, appointed by Bart Barber. The committee is poised to protect female pastors and perhaps punish dissidents. Jonathan Merritt, his son has long been a source of scandal as he is a homosexual who claims to be a Christian. In 2021, James Merritt resigned from SEBTS over this very issue. Jonathan Merritt shared recently about how his father came to publicly affirm his ministry.
People often ask me how in the world I maintain a close relationship with my dad. I’m a progressive gay man, and as many of you know, he is a Southern Baptist preacher who describes himself as “to the right of Ronald Reagan.”
Obviously the idea of Merritt, either one, being to the right of Reagan is farfetched. But it gets worse from here.
These days, you can score a lot of likes on social media by posting about the people you’ve bravely severed from your life—problematic parents, snarky siblings, catty childhood friends. (In severe cases, this may be a necessary step.)
But in this age of “going no contact,” my dad and I have chosen another, harder path. We’ve chosen to stay and stick it out, and learn to love across difference.
Yes, we still establish healthy boundaries, but we are more focused on how we can build BRIDGES TO each other than BARRIERS FROM each other.
The truth is, this hasn’t been easy. It’s been one of the toughest things—I cannot emphasize this enough—I’ve done in my four decades of living. We disagree on a lot politically and theologically. A LOT. We often joke that some of our disagreements could peel paint off the walls.
But working to stay in relationship has taught us so many wonderful truths…
*We have learned that it’s impossible to love someone when you’re constantly trying to change who they are—and that this works both ways.
*We have learned that the people who will cry at your funeral matter, and the critics in your social media feeds do not.
*We have learned that while we may sometimes fight WITH each other in private, we can still fight FOR each other in public.
*And most of all, we have learned that loving across difference is messy and difficult, but in this case, it’s worth it.
Last week, I was able to sit on a stage with my dad—for the first time since being publicly outed in 2012—as we shared these lessons with hundreds of pastors.
If more people were willing to learn the spiritual practice of “loving across difference,” I think our coarse-edged world might become a gentler, kinder, more hospitable place for all of us.
Evidently they’ve turned their dynamic into an opportunity to teach pastors, yet in doing so, James Merritt is affirming the ministry of his son who is an open heretic.